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Sugar-coated Lemon Drop

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Sometimes life can be a real bitch. And sometimes that bitch looks a lot like someone you once mentored, someone you trusted, someone you thought would never stoop to throw you into the same ring of pain and humiliation she’d once suffered, because she knew how awful it was and how much it hurt, and she couldn’t possibly be the type of person to knowingly inflict such damage on someone she cared about.

Then again, Diane Lockhart muses, that might be the mistake she made—she always assumed that despite their differences, despite all their falling-outs, Alicia Florrick still held some modicum of respect for her, some small bit of concern for her well-being.

Assumptions are for lazy people. It is something one of her former law professors once said, but she hears Will’s voice when it rolls through her head.

Then I must be the laziest person in the world, she mentally retorts, too tired to even manage a droll smirk at the thought.

Not for the first time, she deeply misses her old law partner. Today, the ache is heavier—much like how she felt in the first days after his death. There is a mournfulness that she hasn’t felt in a while, a dull and pressing pang that hollows out her ribcage and pushes out through her hips, leaving little room for anything else except the feeling of missing.

It makes sense, she decides. After all, today she was hit with another loss. The loss of self, the loss of understanding, the loss of her sense of the world. The loss of Kurt—not a physical loss, like Will or her parents, but an emotional one. The loss of whom she believed him to be, the loss of the future she hoped to have with him, even the loss of the past she’d built with him. Now every moment is called into question, every action is viewed through a new lens of doubt and pain. That weekend he showed up to surprise her—a moment of whimsy romance, or a reaction to guilt, induced by some tawdry fling he’d had the week before? That time he had to cancel dinner plans—an actual work emergency, or a lie told so that he could spend more time with someone else? His decision to move in together—a desire to truly be closer to her, or further expiation for his sins against her heart and their marriage vows?

How deep did it go, how long did it last? And how big of a fool has she been, throughout it all?

She can’t go home. Not yet. She can’t return to the place where Kurt’s raincoat still hangs on the rack in the hallway, where the two coffee mugs from breakfast still wait by the edge of the sink, where they made love just this morning (but is it making love, if one of the parties perhaps doesn’t actually love the other?). Emotions roil and tumble in her head and her chest like tennis shoes in a washing machine, loud and chaotically out-of-rhythm.

So she finds herself in the only place she can go—her refuge, her temple of solace for so many years now, her self-made sanctuary, her office. She tries not to think that if she didn’t always run to work as an answer, perhaps Kurt wouldn’t have strayed—tries and fails miserably, and is made more miserable by her failing.

It’s late and the only people still here are junior associates, who are all locked up in the 27th floor conference room, working on...something. Diane realizes that she has no idea which case they’re on, and she doesn’t care. Her perspective on life has changed drastically in the past few hours.

She feels a burning rush through her veins at the thought of the person who forced that change in perspective. Her teeth actually ache with the desire to haul another smack across Alicia’s face. Normally Diane Lockhart would never promote violence, much less resort to it, but god, she could understand why some people did.

Especially now.

Her office is still technically condemned, due to the instability of the newly-removed load-bearing wall (she briefly says a prayer of gratitude for insurance), but she doesn’t particularly care at this moment. In all honesty, having the ceiling bury her alive as she sits at her desk would be a fairly apt ending for a day like this.

It is quiet, eerily so—the sound now reverberates oddly through the twisted maze of glass panes and piles of rubble that were once their much-needed wall. The lobby’s carpet has been removed, and her high heels scuff and clank against the concrete. It sounds as hollow and disjointed as her current emotional state.

Damn Alicia. Damn Kurt. Damn perky blonde republicans with even perkier breasts.

That’s one of the worst parts. Diane Lockhart isn’t blind; she’s well aware that time has marched across her face and body, as it inevitably does to everyone, regardless of how many crèmes or injections or lifts and tucks one might use. But she’s never minded (much). In fact, for the most part, she’s reveled in her aging—those lines around her mouth are from a life spent laughing, despite it all, and the creases around her eyes are from hours spent pouring over her favorite subjects, and her skin isn’t as elastic as it used to be, but it’s still soft in a way that men still find inviting (extensive field research has proven this, time and again)—and she’s found a power in it that she loves. Through all of her flings and failed love affairs, she’s never felt particularly self-conscious, never felt less than, or not enough.

That has changed. She normally isn’t one to feel jealous, but Kurt, as always, is her exception. She fought back the feelings of jealousy whenever she’d first met the group of bubbly, mostly-blonde former students who still looked to him with shining eyes, even if they’d schooled their girlish crushes into something less obvious. Adoration is addictive; Diane knew that. But Kurt had informed her that he hadn’t wanted an admirer—he wanted an equal, and for all their differences, they were equals.

That same flare of hot-blooded envy shot through her veins just a few weeks ago, when Holly Westfall had bounced into the conference room, her beamingly beautiful and youthful face almost as distracting as her also-bouncy tits (almost). Even a woman as evolved and rational and self-confidently secure as Diane Lockhart couldn’t withstand that bombardment.

Kurt had assured her that her fears were groundless. He’d shown her just how desirable she was, in ways that still made her skin flush at the memory.

Damn her skin. And damn that man for ruining even that—because now she knew that it had been a lie. Oh sure, he might still find her desirable…just not desirable enough to stave off temptation in a younger form.

She stops for a moment, overcome by a sudden sucker-punch of emotion right between her lungs. Her left hand instinctively reaches for the doorframe as her right lands on her stomach. There’s an odd feeling, a weight without tightness in her ribcage that she can’t quite name and she’d rather not experience.

People die of broken hearts, you know. The voice in her head was once her mother’s, but over the years it has simply muted to her own voice, wryly revealing truths that she already knows and adding commentary that she’d rather not.

“I’m not going to die,” she whispers to herself, angry at her own inner-voice’s sense of melodrama.

She takes the final step into her office, whose darkness is both comforting and unwelcomingly cold. Today simply is not a day for happy mediums, she realizes. Today is not a day for happy anythings, she amends.

She decides to leave the lights off (after all, she could navigate her office blindfolded by now), and slips through the shadows to her credenza, where her scotch and tumblers are patiently waiting. Scotch splashes off the rim of the tumbler, and she can’t tell if it’s because her hand is shaking or because she just really doesn’t give a damn about aim. Could go either way, on a day like today.

The bottle feels heavier than usual in her hand—almost too heavy, like she’s already drunk, like she’s ill or…old and decrepit. She murmurs an eloquently-constructed string of profanities under her breath at her own maudlin thoughts, then moves back to her couch. Her ankles suddenly go weak, and she teeters her last few steps like a preteen wearing her mother’s heels for the first time.

Diane Lockhart is not a woman who moves with anything less than absolute precision. Even when she’s drunk, she’s graceful. She knows this because Will told her that, many times, always in a playful air that was tinged with honest admiration, and she’d always known that he’d meant it—and more importantly, that it must be true.

Funny, she used to feel the same way about Kurt. In her eyes, her husband had been honest to a fault, a trait that she found both admirable and irritating as hell at times. Now she thinks that perhaps she’s been fooled.

It is not a feeling that she welcomes with open arms.

She extends her long legs outwards, the backs of her high heels giving a satisfying thud as they land on the coffee table, ankles crossing out of ingrained habit, thanks to her mother. Her right hand cradles her scotch, resting limply in her lap. She stares straight ahead, unseeing. There’s plenty to watch on the Cineplex of her mind.

If only she could figure out how to stop the reel from rolling.


 

As a matter of principle, David Lee doesn’t like people in general. He hates junior associates in particular. Granted, they take care of the grunt work, but sometimes he wonders if it’s truly worth having them around.

Like tonight, for instance. There’s a multi-million-dollar divorce settlement on the line, and in a room filled with a half-dozen bright young things (he uses the word bright with the lightest sense of conviction and the heaviest dose of sarcasm), not a single goddamn one of them can find a note he wrote four weeks ago that held the final numbers on a sale of mutual assets.

“How hard can it be to find a simple post-it note?” He demands aloud, his volume raising as his tone remains as flat and unimpressed as ever. Truly, he’s not surprised that these Wall-Street-broseph wannabes can’t track down a mere piece of paper. After losing their first batch of junior associates earlier this year (thank you yet again, Cary Agos, you ship-abandoning little rat), they had to be less…selective in their candidates.

There isn’t a single one from a top-tier law school, and it shows—a fact that he points out as often as possible, much to Diane’s chagrin. She always plays the sensible liberal bit, condemning his elitism, but deep down, he knows that she knows he’s right. And while it’s not as good as having an actual declaration of victory, it’s enough of a win to count, in his book.

It’s getting late, and his team are the only ones left in the office. With Peter Florrick on trial, the rest of the firm had put most of its other cases on temporary hold. Crisis mode, Alicia had called it.

As usual, Alicia Florrick defines a crisis much differently than David Lee. So what if the governor had gone to jail? Aside from making the law firm look bad, it had zero repercussions on his life at all. For the most part, his clients wouldn’t bat an eye. He’d still have his money and his equity, and in a week he’d even have his office back.

His office—probably the most likely place to find his missing post-it note. He’s not stupid enough to believe that one of the junior associates could actually find it, so he simply goes upstairs on his own, muttering to himself about how pointless they all are.

The mumbled tirade continues as he shuffles through the folders and files on his desk, until he finds the note in question. As he heads back to the elevator, a small movement catches his eye.

Diane is here, in her office—he can see the top of her blonde head over the back of her couch, one arm raised as if she’s rubbing her forehead in either fatigue or frustration.

Perhaps both, if the rumors are to be believed. Earlier that day, the Florrick "crisis" had been averted.  Alicia, in typical Alicia fashion, had wrought a last-minute Hail Mary of a plea deal, which her husband had wisely accepted. She’d returned to the office with a few other staff members, and they’d all been oddly triumphant, as if they’d won an outright victory instead of barely pulling their asses from the fire.

Diane had not returned with them. The excuse being bandied about was that she’d gone home to change for the press conference that would follow later in the evening. At first, it had seemed plausible—although David Lee had been around long enough to know that Diane Lockhart kept two freshly-pressed power suits in her office closet specifically for unexpected press conferences.

Then the whispers had followed. Whispers about things said in court—things said about Kurt McVeigh, another person who had no bearing on his life except that it affected Diane Lockhart’s life, which in turn did affect David’s.

He shouldn’t disturb her—he generally doesn’t seek Diane out unless it’s to complain or to scheme. They aren’t friends; they aren’t even the type of colleagues to comfort each other during distressing times.

He flashes back to the day Will Gardner was shot. He’d been affected by the loss, more than he’d ever admit, even to himself. Diane had seen it, had even gently placed her hand on his shoulder—he’d immediately jerked away as if burned by a poker iron, because he knew that if the Iron Lady of Chicago suddenly became tender, he’d lose the tenuous hold he’d had on his reined-in emotions. And where would that get them? Two partners, sobbing in the hallway like that annoying little intern that Diane had rightfully sent packing. Not the best look, for either of them. They were lawyers; they had to maintain a reputation of being unenslaved to emotion. Clients wanted to know that they could remain clinical and logical and collected throughout everything.

Still, Diane had seen his emotional distress, and she’d tried to comfort him. He hadn’t wanted that, but it was nice that she’d tried.

I suppose the shoe’s on the other foot, he thinks to himself with a heavy sigh. He comforts himself with the fact that he is not Diane’s favorite person (the feeling’s mutual, lady), so she’ll probably dismiss him with a light nod of her head and tight smile—her usual moves whenever she’s busy compartmentalizing her thoughts and emotions. His debt will be repaid and they’ll all move along with their lives.

He expects Diane to hear him approaching, so he doesn’t even knock—but when he’s finally able to see her impassive face, he realizes that she hasn’t heard a single thing.

God, she looks like hell. He tries to think of a time when she ever looked worse, or even just as bad as this, and he comes up empty-handed.

He takes one step closer, and that movement is just enough in Diane’s peripheral vision that she notices. Her head jerks oddly in his direction, and she blinks, twice, slowly, as if she’s a robot learning to mimic human emotion.

“Wha…you’re here.” Her voice is as slow as her movements, as if she’s still processing everything. David Lee feels a wave of embarrassment—for her, for seeing her like this, for obviously making her day worse by showing up while she’s in such a state.

“I…am.” He is thoroughly uncomfortable right now. She seems relatively unfazed, but that could be simply because her reactions are still on a timed delay.

Her left arm reaches out to languidly gesture towards her credenza. “Grab a glass. The party’s just getting started.”

Despite the havoc of blood-shot eyes and smudged makeup on her face, Diane’s voice has regained its usual low and unaffected tone. David tells himself that this is a step in the right direction. Perhaps being here will force her to compartmentalize, to get back to her usual self. He finds a tumbler and returns to the couch, which Diane pats in silent invitation. He sits as far away from her as possible, and still, it feels weird, sharing a couch. Usually they sit directly facing each other—with a coffee table or a desk between them, always some kind of barrier to denote their usual positions on opposite sides of the fence.

Diane doesn’t move, so David reaches for the bottle, pouring himself a glass.

“I miss Will,” she announces, the wistfulness evident in every syllable.

David thinks that this—sitting on the couch, drinking scotch with their feet propped up after a long day, having quiet conversations—is the sort of thing Will and Diane used to do, and he wonders if she’s lamely trying to recreate that, with poor substitutes.

“None of this would’ve happened, if he were still around,” David intones quietly. He doesn’t specify what this is, but they both know he’s referring to the entire shit-show that’s been running on constant repeat since their former partner’s death.

Diane hums in agreement. David thinks she must really be drained, if she doesn’t even consider taking offense to his comment.

Diane knocks back her drink with a neat flick of her wrist and quick jerk of her head. Her reward is a burning in her throat that stings her eyes (as if she needed more tears), and she relishes it. Let her feel something, anything other than what she’s feeling right now. If Will were here, he’d quietly talk her through it, his hand gently reaching out to pat her hand or her leg as they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch. He’d make sure her glass was always full—but he also would keep an eye on her, and know when she’d reached her limit. Then he’d gently take away the tumblers and put the bottle back in the credenza, signaling the end of her pity party. The conversation would become more frank, more direct, and he’d give her either a pep talk or a light ass-kicking, depending on the situation, and they’d call it a day.

But Will isn’t here. And David Lee isn’t Will.

David holds up the bottle in silent invitation, and she extends her tumbler for another drink. He isn’t Will, but at least he’s still perceptive enough to know that the scotch isn’t going back into the credenza just yet.

He doesn’t ask why she’s here, and she knows it’s because he’s already heard the news. So instead, she focuses on him, “What has you skulking the halls at such a late hour?”

“It’s not that late,” he hedges, glancing at his watch for confirmation.

Diane shifts to turn her face towards him, casting a baleful eye as one corner of her mouth curls into a smirk. “David, I can’t even remember a single time that I’ve seen you here past 5 p.m., unless it was for an office party or a dire emergency—and as far as I know, all our crises have been averted.”

He gives a slight shrug—she’s right about that, and they both know it. So he chooses the truth, “Well, the Carter divorce has a filing deadline tomorrow—”

“So get the junior associates to—”

“I would, Diane, if they were competent enough to do so without direct supervision,” he finds it harder than usual to muster up his customary disdainful tone, but he notices that she’s back to responding in a quick-fire manner, and that’s a good sign. Diane is coming back to herself, and if quibbling with him over the new hires is the way to do it, then by God, he’ll jump in with both feet.

“Oh, not again,” she raises her blue eyes heavenward, already fully-aware of where this is going. “You and your—”

“No, this has nothing to do with me and whatever elitist bias bullshit you want to throw at my door. It is simply a fact, Diane, an irrefutable fact that these people are simply sub-par. This is a multi-million dollar divorce, I’m not having it screwed up because Ed from Arizona State doesn’t know how to properly file a petition.”

“Sometimes I think I should record you, just so you can hear how pompous you sound,” she informs him. Again, the corner of her mouth hitches into an almost-smirk, “However, something tells me you’d enjoy the sound of your own voice.”

“It’s a very pleasant voice—so I’ve been told,” he returns, intentionally pushing into tones that are congenial and low.

She laughs at this—a real laugh, her real laugh, the one that scares you if you’ve never heard it before and aren’t prepared for the outright sound-riot that ensues.

“Ah, humble as always,” she’s still amused, a light hum echoing oddly in her glass as she tips back the rest of her drink. But her happiness is gone by the time the glass moves away from her face.

“I suppose you’ve heard,” she intones somberly, pulling her long legs from the coffee table to lean forward, elbows resting on knees as she swirls the now-empty glass in her hand. With a light snort, she corrects, “Hell, everybody’s heard, at this point.”

David takes a beat to pour her another shot, uncomfortable in this new role and still trying to find the right words. It’s not as if he hasn’t had extensive practice, dealing with grieving divorcees—but Diane is a horse of a different color.

He actually gives a flying fuck about how she comes out of this—not financially, but emotionally, psychologically. It’s a new and entirely unwelcome feeling.

“Fuck ‘em, Diane.” He chooses anger. God knows, he’d really mess it up if he tried to be sympathetic. “Fuck ‘em all. You’ve never given a damn what they thought anyways.”

She gives a hum of agreement, lips pressing into a line. This small moue reminds him just how full her lips are, how attractive she is. With confidence in spades, to boot. What had gone wrong? The long work hours? Probably the long work hours. The woman did practically live in her office.

Briefly, he thinks that he should have been more insistent about Diane selling Kurt’s business for its full market value. She would have had so much more to take away in the divorce.

Diane hasn’t said that she wants a divorce (yet). But David has also been around long enough to know that she isn’t a woman to suffer indignity without some kind of repercussion. It simply isn’t in her nature.

“It isn’t—the odd thing is, what bothers me most….” She doesn’t finish her sentence, alcohol and painful memory dragging her away. During the pause, David refills his own drink, aware that he’s had one in the time that she’s downed three. Finally, she speaks again, cocking her head to the side in detached curiosity, “You know, it’s the…the being made a fool that seems to hurt the most, right now. Sure, the infidelity doesn’t feel spectacularly wonderful, but…I always thought I’d know—and I did, I think, in a way, but I just chose not to know. But…having it thrown out there, in the courtroom, having the rug taken out from under me….”

She gives a shake of her head, ducking downward as if to hide her hurt from David’s eyes, and he gently looks away. He wants to be anywhere but here right now, but there’s no chance of escape.

“I’m not a fool,” she says quietly, her voice strengthening with conviction.

“I know,” he returns, just as quietly, just as convinced.

“And I’m not a fucking martyr.”

He gives a small nod of agreement. Yep, he’d seen this coming.

Then she looks at him—he knows that look. The look of a woman contemplating revenge. Personal revenge. Intimate revenge.

He considers it a half-second longer than he should before dismissing it entirely—but he’ll save the memory of that look. Because in all the things and all the ways they’ve known each other, from enemies to allies to almost friends and everything in-between, there and back again, she’s never looked at him like that before.

She gives a soft, incredulous chuckle, as if she’s read his thoughts and is acknowledging the absurdity of her own. She turns her face away again, gazing out the dark windows at the skyline.

“I feel like I’ve lost it,” she admits. “Lost my faith, lost my ability to make decisions—to trust myself to make decisions—”

“Diane, shut the fuck up.”

She starts at this, turns back to him with wide-eyed surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re human. You trusted a lying bastard, who did exactly as lying bastards do—he lied and was a bastard. You’re not the first person to make that mistake; you won’t be the last. It’s not the end of the world. Hell, it’s not even the end of your reign as head bitch in charge.”

She gives a slight huff at the last bit, but she doesn’t deny it. Instead, one corner of her mouth hitches into a lazy smirk.

Ever one to pursue a winning strategy, David forges ahead, “To be honest, you’ve always had questionable choices when it came to the people you trust—I mean, Will Gardner? C’mon.”

Now she’s chuckling, giving a slight wobble of her head that says yeah, OK, he had his moments, you’ve got a point, maybe.

“Finish that drink,” he moves to his feet, snatching the decanter away and taking it over to the credenza. He goes to the assistant’s desk located just outside her office and she watches him with muddled interest as he rummages through the drawers until he finds what he needs.

“Here,” he returns, two aspirin in one hand and a cup of water in the other. “You’re gonna have a helluva headache tomorrow morning, and I’ve already got too much shit to deal with—I can’t have you calling in sick.”

She knows what he really means—she can’t call in sick, can’t give the gossips more fuel, can’t let the bastards win. She dutifully pops the two pills and downs the water, setting the cup down to return to her stronger drink.

“Very sweet of you,” she muses dryly, the corner of her mouth hitching up into a wry, almost humorless smirk.

“It’s all a ruse,” he assures her, just as dryly. “Deep down, I’m still just a bastard.”

“All men are,” she sobers, only slightly. She’s looking down at her glass with addled focus, as if she’s both mystified by its contents and unsure of why there is so little left.

There is a beat of silence, heavy and hurting. Again, she is lost in thought and he is simply at a loss for words.

“Hey.” He waits until she looks up at him. “You’re gonna be OK.”

She nods in agreement. “Damn right.”

The remainder of her drink disappears down her throat and she smacks the tumbler on the coffee table with a satisfying heaviness.

He offers his hand, easily pulling the woman to her feet. She’s light, so much lighter than he imagined—she’s always been a mountain in his mind, six feet of legs and stilettos and sheer hard-as-nails determination.

“I saw Alicia, afterwards,” she confesses quietly. Standing this close, he can smell the alcohol on her breath. “I slapped her. Hard.”

“Good.”

“I think I may have sprained my wrist.”

Now he laughs. “Even better. I’ll do the same, next time I see her. Traitorous bitch.”

She hums her approval—whether it’s of the plan or the moniker or both, he doesn’t know. Lightly fluffing her hair, she looks around for her things, her voice distracted, “You’re a good—”

She stops herself. The word friend doesn’t fit here; person seems even more unsuitable. Colleague? Drinking partner? Lawyer?

“Don’t get all mushy on me, Diane,” he grimaces, holding up his hands as if warding off an approaching leper. “It suits neither of us.”

A single laugh, low and slightly incredulous. Diane grabs her things and heads down the hall. Her head beings to feel fuzzy and bubbly—it’s time to get home and get to bed, before the hangover hits.

David watches her sway through the doorway. Her shoulders are still slumped uncharacteristically, nothing like Diane’s usual ramrod posture. She’s taken a beating, today, he knows, but she’ll be alright, in the end. She just needs to remember who she really is. And right now, she needs a little kindness. He is surprised with how easily he can give it, especially when it comes to her.

“Call a cab, Diane,” he raises his voice so that it follows her down the hall.

She turns, doing an alcohol-induced twittering side-step until she leans gently against the wall. She’s smiling again—but this time, no sarcasm, only syrupy warmth. He realizes that the alcohol has hit her harder than usual.

“David Lee,” she purrs. “You really do care.”

He slips his hands into his pockets and schools his expression into something more nonchalant as he flatly intones, “We can’t afford to have you getting a DUI. The firm looks bad enough already.”

She throws her head back and lets out a short bark of a laugh, shoving off the wall as she pivots on one impossibly thin stiletto to continue towards the elevators.

This time, she doesn’t stop. She keeps on moving, like always.